Vincent Bugilosi’s monumental book on the Kennedy assassination Reclaiming History* is a rigorous dissection of the events and circumstances surrounding the JFK shooting, and at over 1600 pages, vigorously rebuts the numerous conspiracies that have attended the brutal slaying in Dallas in 1963.

Two examples. Firstly, Bugilosi presents a clinical account of the movements and activities of Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in the months and days prior to the shooting. He proves conclusively that Oswald was not part of any conspiracy, but instead was an isolated individual with grand personal and political ambitions which he could never achieve: a man who could barely hold down menial jobs with an unstable, violent temperament (including domestic violence).

This volatility and frustration exploded when, after his wife’s landlady secured him a job at the Texas Schoolbook Depository overlooking the presidential parade and thwarted in his attempts to defect to Cuba, he took the opportunity afforded by Kennedy’s visit, to commit one of the most violent individual political acts of the 20th Century.

Bugilosi demonstrates convincingly that Oswald was bang to rights as the man who killed Kennedy and the evidence against him so overwhelming that at any trial it was almost certain that a jury would have convicted him. Of course that never happened, courtesy of one Jack Ruby who shot Oswald as he was about to be moved from Dallas Police headquarters to the county jail.

And this provides our second example. Like Oswald, Ruby’s movements have been exhaustively documented. It was originally scheduled to move Oswald at 10am, but this was delayed until just after eleven as Dallas Police tried to arrange transport for the move and Oswald was still being questioned. Ruby didn’t rise until late that morning and then went to a Western Union office to mail a money order to one of his employees. Minutes before the much-delayed move, which Ruby had no way of knowing of in advance, he walked past an entrance to the underground basement where the transfer was about to take place. The policeman securing that entrance had has attention diverted by an armoured van (which was to act as a decoy vehicle as Oswald would actually be transported in an unmarked police car) allowing Ruby to walk down to the basement and take out Oswald. Without the momentary distraction of a police officer and a couple of minutes either side, Oswald would have survived to stand trial.

In both instances the events happened within the framework of the three C’s: Chance, Contingency and Chaos, definitely not Conspiracy.

And yet none of this irrefutable evidence has ever acted as a brake on the Kennedy conspiracy theorists. Indeed, all the evidence cited in Bugilosi’s book is based on the extensive work carried out by the Warren Commission and numerous other investigations which have never been able to come up with one single shred of evidence of a conspiracy that would stand up to rigorous cross-examination in a court of law. In other words the truth has always been out there for the past fifty years.

And yet the conspiracy theories flourish. Why?

Conspiracy theories of whatever hue provide a narrative, a framework of meaning within a chaotic world. A frustrated, violent loner, a ‘nobody’ taking out the most powerful man in the world offends our sense that the world has a purpose. It is far more satisfactory that JFK’s demise was at the hands of powerful forces, whatever their malign motives. That satisfies our need for there to be a reason for why things happen which meets our deep desire to see order and purpose in the world around us.

And, of course, any attempt to counter conspiracy theories by amassing evidence and facts on the scale that Bugilosi does is met by conspiracists with the simple contention that, well, such people are of course part of the conspiracy weaving a grand tapestry of lies and illusions to deflect from the ‘truth’. This view is best captured by the following:

A group of JFK conspiracy theorists all die and go to heaven at the same time. They are granted an audience with God and ask him who really killed Kennedy? After a period of reflection, God pronounces, “the killing of President John F. Kennedy was committed by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.”

This leads to head scratching among the conspiracy theorists with one eventually declaring: “This conspiracy is even bigger than we thought!”

A full-blown conspiracy theory, such as that surrounding JFK, is incapable of refutation or falsification but equally impervious to verification. The facts and evidence underlying them don’t stack up and as such they are profoundly unscientific and unhistorical. Conspiracy theories are akin to acts of faith in a hidden, occult cosmic world of unseen forces.

For conspiracy theorists the ‘truth’ is always out there: it just doesn’t happen to conform to the facts or the evidence.

*Published by W.H.Norton 2007